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Riding Route 66: Having a whale of a time

Editor’s note: Rowan County resident David Freeze is off on his latest summertime cycling adventure. This time, he’s riding the famed Route 66 from California to Chicago.

I just got in a fabulous motel room in Claremore called the Claremore Motor Inn. I thought it would be one of the older Route 66 motels, but it isn’t. That is OK with me. My experience at one of the oldest was less than I expected the night before.

My choice last night was based on yet another gimmick, one of the largest neon signs on all of Route 66. Plus the Skyliner was was of the oldest motels, too. I was OK with a small room because the bed was great and it has plenty of room for me and the bike. But the room was very dark and some of the things needed attention. Plus the sign did not completely light up. Enough said and I will rely less on gimmicks in the future.

I left 15 minutes later today because the sky was cloudy and it took even longer to get light. Still, the early ride went very well. I pedaled out of Stroud and into Depew where I got two fantastic egg and cheese biscuits and met Fred Jackson. Fred had been watching me take pictures of his town and pulled over to talk. He said that Depew was an oil boom town that started to play out in the 1950s. Fred remembers three grocery stores and a movie theatre and all kinds of other stores in the closed storefronts of today. We had a nice talk and Fred warned me of the road without shoulders coming up.

Bristow was next, another clean, four-lane town where it seemed everyone was going out to eat breakfast. On to Kellyville and another snack stop for me. Nice people but I didn’t linger long.

Just after Kellyville, I was amazed to see another fully loaded cyclist pedaling toward me, the first I had seen on the whole journey so far. Roy Leinfuss of Salida, Colo., was riding the same route heading west. We shared some info and after wishing each other, “Safe travels!”, we both pedaled away. Finally, my first encounter with a real cyclist! Traveling solo, and out for multiple weeks at a time. Roy was actually pulling a trailer with his bike and already has next year’s trip planned. Most likely, so do I.

My next town was Sapulpa, another neat four-lane town but this one was bigger at about 20,000 residents. Sapulpa had a bar with a wall map that showed that I have ridden about two thirds of Route 66, leaving one third to go. But it isn’t that simple and I will explain later. By the way, I have quit carrying my emergency water since towns are now popping up about every 10 to 15 miles.

Next was just less than three hours of entering, riding through and leaving Tulsa. All of it was one version or another of Route 66 and Tulsa is certainly proud to be a part of all this. Jack Connery, a Tulsa native now living in Salisbury, made sure that I knew what to look for. I stopped at Ollie’s Restaurant and ordered a piece of pie to go, but after telling my story, the manager said, “You know the rest of that peanut butter pie doesn’t look quite right. I am just going to give you the rest and just charge for a slice.” Of course, I agreed. That pie sure did taste good at the end of my ride today. Before I started writing, believe it or not!

I loved Tulsa. It is a beautiful, well-kept city with a fantastic mix of old and new architecture. What I didn’t love is how long it took to get out of town. The last street, I think it was 193rd, was 12 miles from the center of town and lots of it uphill. But I had a fantastic visit.

Just about three miles from the long lasting end of Tulsa is Catoosa. Now Catoosa is famous for two things. Gambling and the Blue Whale. Jack had told me not to miss the whale and all the literature on Route 66 calls it one of the premier attractions. But first, I stopped at a Wendy’s because my tank was empty, basically I was running on fumes. I ordered a vanilla frosty and a large diet coke. After consuming both, the spring was in my legs again. I asked the counter girl where the blue whale was and her reaction was priceless. Totally uninterested, she did say, “I know it is around here somewhere but I don’t know where.” Finally, the third Wendy’s girl knew right where to send me.

The blue whale is a huge concrete structure that you and lots of your friends can walk into. You can ride a chute into the water from its belly if you wish. It is simply amazing to me. I got my most sought-after picture and decided to pedal on yet another 12 miles or so to Claremore.

My first stop was at the Will Rogers Inn and I negotiated a price with her but it wasn’t quite good enough and I ended up in the nice Claremore Motor Inn. It just sounds historic but is much newer than my usual haunts. I will have more on Will Rogers, Claremore’s most famous resident, tomorrow. One of the main streets is Will Rogers Boulevard but already I have seen that the town really is proud of its local hero.

Up until about 3 p.m. this afternoon, I was going to mention that there had still been no trains even if I had ridden beside the tracks most of the day. Then they started rolling and I can actually see them from my motel room window. Suits me fine!

It was a great day! One of the best on the trip and it only took 85 miles to get it done. Tomorrow, I hope to get near the end of Oklahoma, which has sure been a fun and interesting state. By the way, creeks and trees are now part of the landscape again. It looks almost exactly like home.

I hope to have plenty more fun to share tomorrow!

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